After attracting its first account customer, DrivenByQ had to decide how to manage chauffeur bookings. A licensed operator of private hire vehicles, legally has to record all journeys (on a run sheet). We originally logged ours in a spreadsheet. The basic information included: Date / Time / Driver / Passenger / Pickup Address / Destination / Price / Parking Cost / Waiting Time / Tolls / Remarks.
Improving The Process
As the spreadsheet filled up, there was an opportunity to increase its efficiency. Processing data takes time and, that time costs money. Processing data more quickly and easily improves competitiveness and profitability. Coming from an engineering background, it was only natural for me to seek improvements. Managing chauffeur bookings more efficiently is easier when you know some basic principles.
A spreadsheet works well. Populating it is a manual process: a person has to answer a phone (or email) and receive the detail. If the detail is initially written on paper, it will need copying to a computer. This is called ‘transposing data’. It is highly susceptible to human error.
In an effort to make this process lean, we introduced an online booking form. This has various benefits. It allows simultaneous multiple bookings; telephone lines are quieter; information is complete (with no missing flight numbers); and you can earn money driving (in between emails).
Receiving phone bookings meant every customer giving information differently. Some offer a flight number first, some start with their travel date and others begin with their name. By using a web form, information arrives in a standard format. This is quicker to process and less error prone.
With more and more bookings, a spreadsheet becomes tedious. Invoicing is a pain. Filtering information is manually intense. A header and footer needs inserting on invoices too. Formatting can be time consuming along with the printing and posting. It all takes time!
The solution is a Database. It filters information better. Selecting journeys by a ‘customer’ and a ‘date’ is easier. The results appear in a report (or invoice). This can include a header and footer automatically. It is neater, faster and simpler. The reports (or invoices) are simply attached to an email. The processing time for invoices falls from hours to minutes. It eliminates the use of paper as well.
A database brings other benefits too. Reports can be produced as web pages. Turnover figures for each day, week or month can be produced at the click of a button and there are other powerful tools available.
Integration and Automation
With a database running on a home computer, web forms can feed bookings directly to it. Originally, we used a parser for this – a piece of software. It recognises specific emails and copies the content (or fields of data) straight to matching fields in the database.
After adding this feature, we began uploading information. Customers and drivers could see their bookings in a secure area of our web site. It was technically complex. It was on a timed cycle and needed additional bolt-on software called an FTP program.
Advantages of The Cloud
By mid 2008, DrivenByQ had a polished database. There were some negatives! It ran on a bedroom computer 24 hours a day. It had remote access (for one person). And a neighbour a few doors away had a mini-digger accident. They severed the phone lines and took out the Internet connection!
To resolve the single-user issue (and have a constant backup), the answer was to run the database on a web server (or cloud technology). Back in 2009, dispatch systems didn’t use the cloud. They were all office based.
A web server (or cloud technology) lives in a data centre. These are equipped with climate-control, security guards and battery backup. If the backup batteries fail, a diesel generators kick in. If the whole data centre goes offline, a different data centre comes online (known as geo-redundancy).
The Mobile Gain
Moving to the cloud enables multiple simultaneous users – all in real time. They can edit journeys from a smart phone. These days, an administrator simply adds a drivers name to a job. It shows on a driver’s phone in seconds. The driver can click a button to automatically start satellite guidance or track a flight. They can update their parking fees in the system without any paper dockets required.
With the advent of smart phones, data is easy to manage in the cloud. The progress made over a decade has been nothing short of revolutionary. It is astounding how fast technology continues to evolve in how to manage Chauffeur bookings. New possibilities appear all the time.
Looking forward, the next stage of development is to integrate across platforms and access a higher level of convenience and intelligence. The trick is to see possibilities way ahead of what the competition thinks is possible. Quite simply, less administrative time boost profitability.